Peter Carey – novelist
Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows (Bloomsbury) has huge ambition and an author equal to the task. Travelling from Nagasaki to Guantánamo, this very beautiful novel sets out to grasp the nettle of our modern history. The most utilitarian of us will find it “relevant and contemporary”. At the same time, it is a work of art, as human as the feel of another’s hand. Colum McCann once wrote himself inside the skin of Nureyev. In Zoli he created Romany characters that Romany readers have been pleased to own. Now, in Let the Great World Spin (Bloomsbury) [winner this week of the National Book Award for fiction], he has reinvented the city of New York in all its breathing, fighting, whining, joyous clamour.
Wendy Cope – poet
In January, Areté Books published A Scattering, Christopher Reid’s tribute to his late wife, Lucinda. His poems about marital love and bereavement are immensely moving. Reid is a first-rate poet and this is his best book to date. Later in the year, the same author came up with something quite different. The Song of Lunch (CB Editions) is a witty narrative about a publisher meeting an old flame in an Italian restaurant. The story is sad, as well as funny, and very enjoyable.
Kazuo Ishiguro – novelist
My reading this year was dominated by Roberto Bolaño’s two massive novels, The Savage Detectives and 2666 (both Picador). The first is the superior, but 2666, for all its occasional longueurs, is still quite magnificent. Bolaño links seamlessly South American, US and European traditions; modernism with gritty realism and the crime thriller. These are both important works and the advent of Bolaño is a significant moment in the history of modern fiction.
Peter Conrad – Observer critic
My choice is Simon Mawer’s novel The Glass Room (Little, Brown). Imagine the house of fiction as a clean, shining, transparent box, befouled by some of the nastiest episodes in recent history. A small saga, beautifully conceived and deeply moving.
Hari Kunzru – novelist
One of the most compelling recent fictional depictions of Manhattan is Richard Price’s Lush Life (Bloomsbury), out this year in paperback, which takes place on the streets of the Lower East Side, a few blocks from where I live. Price’s low-key crime thriller is also a pointed look at gentrification and social exclusion, more Zola than Raymond Chandler. His ear for dialogue is extraordinary, as evidenced by his superlative work on The Wire. Also examining the lives of the dispossessed is The Story of My Assassins by Tarun J Tejpal (HarperCollins), an Indian novel that appears to have been overlooked in the general rush to adore The White Tiger and Slumdog Millionaire. Less crisp then either but with a much richer understanding of the politics of poverty – the author is a leading investigative journalist – it deserves wider attention.
Dominic West – actor
Josephine Hart’s The Truth About Love (Virago) is a devastating account of grief and loss and the truth and lies that bind us to our family and to our country. Her language is beautiful, her characters rich and funny, and she has the courage to expose the deceit behind nationalism. It is also painfully personal and, like all great works of art, one is aware how much it cost her to write it.
Jackie Kay – writer
A very strong year for poetry. I was particularly moved by Fred D’Aguiar’s Continental Shelf (Carcanet). The heart of the book is a series of elegiac sonnets about the Virginia Tech massacre. D’Aguiar teaches there; his poems evoke the process of trying to work out what life means in the face of such senseless murder. Rain by Don Paterson (Faber) was another favourite of mine. Paterson is simply one of the best living poets in the UK. Kachi A Ozumba’s The Shadow of a Smile (Alma Books) is a brilliantly funny and gripping novel that examines the corruption and hypocrisy within the Nigerian justice system.
Philip French – Observer film critic
The most valuable movie book of 2009 is Joseph P Kennedy’s Hollywood Years by Cari Beauchamp (Faber), a meticulously researched account of how the Bostonian scoundrel established the family fortune in the movie business and remained in influential contact with Tinseltown until his dying day. Antony Beevor’s D-Day (Allen Lane) is a brilliantly organised, eye-opening epic about the world’s greatest military campaign. With his second brick-sized volume, Family Britain 1951-57 (Bloomsbury), David Kynaston magnificently continues his sociocultural history of postwar Britain, bringing my formative years into sharper focus on every page.
Shami Chakrabarti – civil rights campaigner
Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie (Bloomsbury) has reconfirmed my long-held view that great fiction is capable of inspiring progressive insight and action well beyond the reach of political polemic, philosophy, documentary or even law. Shamsie achieves the near impossibility of a truly intimate epic tale. The multiple identities of various members of her complex family of characters are explored across continents and decades. Cataclysmic world events from the atomic bomb at Nagasaki to the Twin Towers atrocity are treated with a subtlety and humanity often lacking from political writing. I challenge anyone to put this book down lightly or not to identify with at least one of its many flawed and yet irresistibly human characters.
Kirsty Wark – broadcaster
Rarely do I read a new novel and immediately resolve to read it again, but Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn (Viking), the tender and spare story of a young Irish girl’s emigration to the Brooklyn of the 1950s, merits revisiting. Tóibín has infused his group of female characters with humour and sadness, and his evocation of their precarious journey to a new life seems to me pitch-perfect. Nigel Slater’s Tender Volume 1 (HarperCollins) – hurrah, there’s more to come – is to be savoured as much as his baked onions, porcini and cream.
David Cameron – politician
Every once in a while, political diaries emerge that are so irreverent and insightful that they are destined to be handed out as leaving presents in offices across Whitehall for years to come. Chris Mullin’s A View From the Foothills (Profile) is one such book. Its humour and self-deprecation more than make up for the nagging feeling it leaves behind that The Thick of It may not always be all that far from the truth. All politicians need to read honest accounts of war – at no time more than now – and Patrick Hennessey’s The Junior Officers’ Reading Club (Allen Lane) is one of the very best. There is even some humour in it and plenty of insight. Its engrossing narratives on 21st-century warfare and its effects are guaranteed to remain in the mind long after the book is finished.
Mary Warnock – philosopher
The book that has interested me most this year has the rebarbative title Psychiatry as Cognitive Neuroscience: Philosophical Perspectives, edited by Matthew R Broome and Lisa Bortolotti (Oxford University Press). It is a collection of very varied essays on subjects such as the nature of mental illness, whether psychiatry is a science, and why so-called personality disorder can’t be treated, all matters of great interest in themselves, but also of relevance to criminal law and sentencing policy. Despite its title, it is a gripping read. Not so gripping, however, as Robert Harris’s Lustrum (Hutchinson). Ever since Imperium I’ve been longing for the next instalment and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s a marvellous novel.
Colm Tóibin – novelist
Chloe Hooper’s The Tall Man (Jonathan Cape) is the chilling story of the death in custody of an Aboriginal prisoner in Australia. It is told with a novelist’s eye for detail and flair for narrative, but there is also a passionate engagement with the story in all its complexity and a sort of rage that make the book utterly compelling. David Vann’s Legend of a Suicide (Viking) is equally gripping. For the imagery alone and for the sentences, the book would be a treasure, but the story it tells – the story of the suicide of the author’s father – has an immediacy and sharpness made all the more special by the tone of distance in the narrative and the beauty of the writing. In poetry, Don Paterson’s Rain (Faber) displays one of the greatest poets now writing anywhere at his most wise and wry and eloquent.
David Kynaston – historian
Arguably the finest British diarist since Virginia Woolf has now, in James Lees-Milne, found his fitting memorial. Michael Bloch’s biography (John Murray) is admirably judged: warm, but not hagiographical; sufficiently candid about Lees-Milne’s many loves (including, in an often masochistic relationship, his ghastly wife, Alvilde); and acutely revealing about the demons that drove him. Lees-Milne may not have been quite a Pepys, and Bloch is not a Claire Tomalin, but subject and author are here perfectly matched.
Sam Mendes – director
I was touched by Michael Chabon’s Manhood for Amateurs (Harper US), an honest and funny account of the struggles of being a father; gripped by Andrew Ross Sorkin’s Too Big to Fail (Allen Lane), a superbly researched and sobering take on the events surrounding the meltdown on Wall Street; and mesmerised by Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin (Bloomsbury), a wonderful book that puts its author right at the front rank of contemporary novelists.
Michael Palin – broadcaster
Sara Wheeler’s The Magnetic North (Jonathan Cape) provides acute insights into life north of the Arctic Circle. Abundant energy resources and the alarmingly swift effects of global warming make this a fascinating and relevant journey; she uses human stories to inform and enlighten us.
Roy Hattersley – politician and historian
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin (Penguin) is a biography of Abraham Lincoln, a history of the American Civil War, vignettes of half-a-dozen 19th-century American politicians and a textbook on good government. It is written in such a compelling style that, despite the complexities of the characters and the subtlety of the arguments, the reader zips through. The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (Allen Lane) confirms, scientifically, what social democrats have always hoped was true: the better-off have much to gain from redistribution of wealth, since the more equal societies are spared much of the social evil that afflicts modern society. The confirmation that morality and expediency do coincide comes as a great relief in a disturbing year.
Geoff Dyer – novelist
The Music Room (Picador) is William Fiennes’s memoir of growing up in a rambling old castle. This unusual home and upbringing are evoked with great beauty and poignancy (his epileptic brother, Richard, is an increasingly vulnerable and volatile presence), in ravishing prose, but the book has another, strangely hypnotic effect, enfolding the reader in memories of a child’s view of the world that seems universal. Well, maybe not if you grew up in the drug-ruined ghettos of west Baltimore. The Corner (Canongate) by David Simon and Ed Burns came out in the US in 1997, but had to wait until we all went gaga about The Wire to be published here. It’s an unforgettable, devastating account of neighbourhoods and generations in the process of being laid waste.
Geordie Greig – journalist
The greatest living master of the short story, William Trevor, has written a jewel of a novel with Love and Summer (Viking). It is a story set in 1950s Ireland where the small-town characters are torn by love, disappointment, revenge and compassion. At 81, this brilliant Irish author still demonstrates his ability to show the subtler shades of unrequited passion.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali – writer
Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe (Allen Lane) zooms in on the challenges of Muslim migration to Europe, telling the story with an outsider’s eye. It’s a disturbing read but a necessary wake-up call.
Curtis Sittenfeld – novelist
I really enjoyed the essay collection Bad Mother by Ayelet Waldman (Doubleday). A friend sent me the book after I had my first baby last spring, and I found Waldman – who graduated from Harvard Law School and worked as a public defender before having four children – to be frank, insightful, and very funny. Waldman’s a somewhat controversial writer in the US, known for being outspoken and also for being married to the novelist Michael Chabon, and as I read I did sometimes think, wow, you’re really revealing that about yourself and your family? But her honesty kept me turning pages, and after each essay, I felt like I’d just had a conversation with a smart and outrageous friend.
Jeremy Paxman – broadcaster
There are three books that I have particularly enjoyed recently: I was gripped by Simon Mawer’s The Glass Room (Little, Brown), chortled through Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years (Michael Joseph) and learned a lot from Allan Mallinson’s The Making of the British Army (Bantam).
Malcolm Gladwell – writer
I cannot remember enjoying a book as much as Iain Pears’s Stone’s Fall (Jonathan Cape). It’s more adventurous even than Pears’s earlier classic, An Instance of the Fingerpost. We should stop calling Pears a genre writer of thrillers and, as we have done for John le Carré, simply call him a great novelist.
Eric Hobsbawm – historian
In its original German version, I found Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s The Silences of Hammerstein a virtuoso combination of research, reportage and imagination, as good an introduction as any to the Weimar Republic, impossible to put down. This is the story of Kurt von Hammerstein, the last (and anti-Nazi) general commanding the German army before Hitler came to power, and his children, divided between communists, ex-communists and 1944 military conspirators. It has now been beautifully published in English by Seagull Books in, of all places, Calcutta. Shlomo Sand’s The Invention of the Jewish People (Verso) is both a welcome and, in the case of Israel, much needed exercise in the dismantling of nationalist historical myth and a plea for an Israel that belongs equally to all its inhabitants. Perhaps books combining passion and erudition don’t change political situations, but if they did, this one would count as a landmark.
Philip Hensher – novelist
Two blockbusters, made out of writing of brevity and concision, were the highlights of my reading year. Blake Bailey’s exemplary life of John Cheever (Picador) was full of its subject’s inimitable voice, ruthless, hilarious, cruel and drink-sodden. In some ways, the story is a terrifying one – Cheever descended to psychic depths few of us will even witness – but it should always be remembered that this greatest of American novelists was, above all, extremely funny. The only thing wrong with the new, two-volume Collected Stories of William Trevor was the repulsively cheap paper Penguin printed it on – the ink smeared underneath my fingers, which is no way to treat the greatest living exponent of the short story in English. The Booker panel might, too, have found a space for Trevor’s miraculous Love and Summer (Viking), a late-period summation of thought and expression if ever I saw one. But the best novel of the year was Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs (Faber), both traumatic and dazzlingly witty; scenes you wish you could forget, sentences you were grateful for.
Fergus Henderson – chef
My nomination is Fernand Point’s Ma Gastronomie (Duckworth). It’s a collection of the great man’s (he truly was a great man) recipes, thoughts, menus. Point was the chef of La Pyramide restaurant near Lyon, a legend and mentor to a generation of chefs. He started his day with the barber coming to shave him and two magnums of champagne. Not bad.
Tim Adams – Observer writer
As a reminder of why great journalism has not much to do with Twitter updates and round-the-clock opinion, I’ve carried a couple of volumes with me: Michael Frayn’s Travels With a Typewriter (Faber) and Ian Jack’s The Country Formerly Known as Great Britain (Jonathan Cape). Both collections are testament to a lifetime of intimate looking and to the hard labour of getting the world out there on to the page. The patience and intelligence of their storytelling is a good antidote to all that buzzes.
Daljit Nagra – poet
At this time of year, Amartya Sen’s The Idea of Justice (Allen Lane) is a sober analysis of how we arrive at notions of justice. Sen uses examples from eastern and western traditions to help elucidate his abstract arguments. Sobriety is also maintained through two remarkable poetry collections. Both Christopher Reid’s A Scattering (Areté Books) and Don Paterson’s Rain (Faber) are haunted by the loss of loved ones. While Reid’s heartbreakingly spare narrative about the death of his wife is moving for its simplicity of expression, Paterson’s collection has an Augustan frankness, an Elizabethan elegance and a postmodern playfulness.
Melvyn Bragg – novelist and broadcaster
Diarmaid MacCulloch’s monumental A History of Christianity (Allen Lane) is essential reading for those enthralled by Christianity and for those enraged by it, while those who protest indifference may be ambushed by surprise at its force in world culture over the millenniums. Francis Wheen is a superb, idiosyncratic chronicler of our times and Strange Days Indeed (Fourth Estate) is a glittering, pinpointed view on the 1970s. Wheen has a scholar’s mind, the energy of a supercharged magpie and a lofty wit that never sours.
Nicholas Hytner – director
This year, I’ve read some wonderfully enjoyable novels. The fastest page-turner, dry-mouthed and sweaty-palmed, was William Boyd’s Ordinary Thunderstorms (Bloomsbury). Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate) was every bit as good as they said it was. And Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn (Viking) moved me more than any other book this year: a miraculously empathetic journey across the Atlantic and back again with a young Irish woman, ordinarily lonely, ordinarily in love, ordinarily fickle – but her every thought and action quite extraordinarily truthful. A short masterpiece.
Joan Bakewell – broadcaster and novelist
A View From the Foothills by Chris Mullin (Profile) is a political diary that stands with the best, alongside Alan Clark and Chips Channon. Mullin never made it to the political heights, but his experience of being a junior minister under Tony Blair – referred to throughout as “the Man” – is full of cunning humour. We know from his earlier Austerity Britain how thorough David Kynaston is, but I was apprehensive that the 1950s, which he tackles in Family Britain 1951-57 (Bloomsbury), would simply be too dull. Far from it. Kynaston has dredged reminiscences, diaries, political archives, newspapers and magazines for every scrap of interest and detail.
Bidisha – critic
I’ve been getting into some dark, thoughtful adult mystery fiction this year. One of my favourite books has been The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland (Michael Joseph), which is about a superstitious, uptight, pagan village of mad paranoiacs tormented by the arrival of a community of women. Think Wicker Man meets The Handmaid’s Tale with a whiff of Deliverance. I was also extremely impressed by The Forest of Hands and Teeth, the debut novel by Carrie Ryan (Gollancz). It’s a post-apocalyptic political zombie allegory with a gothic flavour.
Vivienne Westwood – fashion designer
My recommended read is The Vanishing Face of Gaia by James Lovelock (Allen Lane). At somewhere between 400 and 500 parts per million (ppm) of CO² in the atmosphere, the Earth will settle down to a new equilibrium of 5C hotter than now. Our luscious, comfortable world will be gone. What is left will support about a fifth of the present population. We must plan.
Ken Livingstone – politician
Seth G Jones’s In the Graveyard of Empires (Norton) is a devastating critique of the mismanagement of the Afghan war by the US and Britain, whose argument is all the stronger because his perspective is not from the left. The book reveals that things are worse than we suspect and even an old cynic like myself was shocked at some of the revelations. In The Spirit Level (Allen Lane), Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett offer proof that most of the ills of our “broken society” arise out of the growing inequality of the past 30 years. If Tony Blair had known this, his could have been one of the three great reforming governments of the last century to stand alongside 1906 and 1945. And Mandelson would have known why he shouldn’t have been so relaxed about the filthy rich.
Nick Hornby – novelist
Wells Tower’s superb collection of short stories, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned (Granta), is dark and funny, and in Tower’s case, the former quality does not negate the latter. When, in one of the stories, a woman finds out that her husband is having an affair because the footprint on the car windscreen does not match her own, you know you’re reading somebody who doesn’t come along very often. My favourite work of non-fiction this year was written by the Observer‘s art critic – I’m sorry, but there we are. Laura Cumming’s brilliant book about self-portraits, A Face to the World (HarperPress), positively fizzes with ideas; just about every single paragraph contains a fresh observation, not just about art but about human nature. The author has got me running around galleries I haven’t been to in years.
Colum McCann – novelist
Zeitoun by Dave Eggers (McSweeney’s Books; published here in February by Hamish Hamilton) is an examination of America in the time of Katrina, an indictment of bureaucracy, a testimony to the possibility of goodness, a level-headed look at Muslim America, a heartbreaking rap sheet for the Bush years, all this and more… I was completely enthralled by this book from one of the most socially engaged and provocative writers of our times. The Infinities (Picador) is John Banville’s best book, I think. The prose is honed, as always, and every word matters, but the book breathes with humour and shines with a lovely discursive wink. It’s also the sort of novel that you nod along to, then it swerves and you don’t quite know where you are, but you experience the thrill of being suitably lost.
Mariella Frostrup – writer and broadcaster
This year’s Booker winner, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate), caught my eye early on when I interviewed her about it on Open Book on Radio 4. Having spotted its potential, I wish I’d followed through with a call to William Hill! Two novels by Antipodean authors also figured highly this year: Richard Flanagan’s Wanting (Atlantic Books), a brutal evocation of the fate of a young Aboriginal girl, adopted by the governor of Van Diemen’s Land and his wife, and later discarded; and David Malouf’s Ransom (Chatto), a wonderful retelling of the encounter between Achilles and the Trojan King Priam in prose that’s so good you want to eat it.
Andrew Rawnsley – Observer columnist
Chris Mullin produced an account, both highly hilarious and deeply depressing, of the futility of much ministerial life in his diaries, A View From the Foothills (Profile). Politics on a much grander canvas was brilliantly brought to life by Doris Kearns Goodwin in her superb Team of Rivals (Penguin) about the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. A timely and penetrating audit of authoritarianism around the world came from John Kampfner’s Freedom for Sale (Simon & Schuster). While highly critical of the trajectory of the present government, he does not level the lazy charge made by some that we already live in “a police state”.
David Vann – novelist
Elegant and controlled, Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn (Viking), the tale of Eilis, a young woman who emigrates from Ireland to America in the 1950s, is the book that broke my heart this year. Eilis is so close and intimate. I’m scared for her, homesick, become thrilled as she falls in love and then, when tragedy strikes her family back in Ireland, the world has gone empty and I’m grieving with her. This is not the end, though. It’s only the beginning of what becomes a choice straight out of Greek tragedy, a choice that cannot be made. What’s at risk is everything: the new world and the old, family, love, self, belonging. I tend to like stylists, lyrical landscapes, showier stuff and I forget that the most ambitious landscape, finally, is the human heart.
Chris Mullin – writer and politician
John Campbell’s Pistols at Dawn (Jonathan Cape) is a masterly account of great political feuds of the past two centuries, starting with William Pitt and Charles James Fox and ending with Brown and Blair. And something completely different was Dead I May Well Be (Serpent’s Tail), part one of a gripping trilogy by Adrian McKinty, introducing Michael Forsyth, a young hoodlum escaping the troubles of Belfast only to find himself embroiled in the murky, violent underworld of New York’s Irish gangsters. Taut, lean prose and dialogue up there with Elmore Leonard. McKinty hasn’t had the attention he deserves.
Julie Myerson – novelist
I loved the energy, humour and fizz of Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs (Faber) – so oddball in places that it ought not to have worked, but it did, totally. Sarah Waters’s The Little Stranger (Virago) is proper, muscle-flexing storytelling – I was in awe and I just did not want it to end. And the very first novel I read this year was Anita Brookner’s Strangers (Fig Tree). No one writes with more skill and honesty about the human condition and this book is possibly her finest.
Nigel Slater – food writer
I have been trying to read Monty Don’s The Ivington Diaries (Bloomsbury) in short daily segments, so that the beautifully written story of his astonishing Herefordshire garden will last all year. I cannot bear to think I will come to the end. Phyllida Law’s Notes to My Mother-in-Law (Fourth Estate) is something I wolfed in one glorious bite: funny, tender and deeply touching, it is something for the Christmas stocking of anyone who has ever had to look after an elderly relative.
Robert McCrum – Observer writer
David Kynaston’s series Tales of New Jerusalem grows in confidence with each volume. Family Britain 1951-57 (Bloomsbury) takes us back to the post-austerity world of Supermac, Suez, Kenwood mixers and the Comet that now seems like a cloudless idyll. But the great quality of Kynaston’s astonishing research is his cool, unsentimental eye for telling anecdote – for instance, the vicious press hysteria that surrounded the hanging of Ruth Ellis.
Romola Garai – actress
The Complete Stories of JG Ballard (published in a new edition by Norton in the US) offers the reader a minute dissection of the human heart and mind. It has been on my bedside table for months, as I couldn’t bring myself to move it; I couldn’t let it go. The Rapture by Liz Jensen (Bloomsbury) also got under my skin. It is one of the very few books I have dreamed about. It is a powerful and violent novel and also a terrifically gripping read.
Ross Raisin – novelist
I bang on about David Vann’s Legend of a Suicide (Viking) at the slightest opportunity, so this seems like a particularly good place to do it. Much of the review coverage has concentrated on form – whether the book is a novel, memoir or a collection of short stories, and how our preconceptions about these things affect our reading. Interesting as this question is, I first read the book in an unmarked dustjacket with no idea what it was and it turned out to be the most powerful and lucid piece of writing I have read for more years than just this one.
Rachel Cooke – Observer critic
Like everyone, I loved Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate), but I was spooked by it, too. The voice is so true: I have my suspicions that Hilary Mantel actually is Thomas Cromwell. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Fig Tree) is set in segregated Jackson, Mississippi, in 1962, and it’s an exciting and atmospheric story about what happens when one privileged white woman gets just a little too close to the town’s maids – the “help” of the title. Anna Minton’s Ground Control (Penguin) is a short but thought-provoking polemic about 21st-century Britain, with its gated communities, its privately owned shopping centres and its “regenerated” cultural and business districts. A book that will make you as mad as hell.
Tristram Hunt – historian
Three very important books for the intellectual regeneration of the left hit the shelves this year. Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s The Spirit Level (Allen Lane) delivered a statistically clinical account of the benefits of social democracy for living longer, happier and more fulfilled lives; Susan Neiman’s Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-Up Idealists (The Bodley Head) was a powerful wake-up call for the progressive left to have some faith in its Enlightenment project; and the great Amartya Sen provided a political route-map for delivering social justice in his compelling work, The Idea of Justice (Allen Lane). For sheer historical enjoyment there was Christian Wolmar’s Blood, Iron and Gold: How the Railways Transformed the World (Atlantic Books), which chronicles the railway’s global growth with characteristic brio.
Craig Raine – poet
William Golding by John Carey (Faber) is a trove of astonishing new facts and a timely reminder of what a great, unflinching, unsparing, unorthodox, consistently surprising writer Golding was. The last hundred pages of the 800-page The Letters of TS Eliot Volume 2 1923-1925 (Faber) put us at the centre of the Eliot marriage as it detonates. Not everything is clear. It is an explosion after all – so, an eerie sensation of stillness, brute shock waves and the intimate dust still settling on the skin.